Climate change a big challenge, but there are reasons for hope

Note: This article was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser May 5, 2016.

We love catch-phrases, especially in our movies. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if we didn’t hear “I have a bad feeling about this” every so often.

My favorite catch-phrase, though, is from Star Trek. Whenever things go wrong, a character shouts “I can fix that” and charges off to do just that.

Climate change is an incredibly difficult challenge. A recent letter writer to this newspaper shared that they were tired of reading only about the problems of climate change, with no solutions. Another writer responded by saying that there were no solutions as long as human beings keep acting like human beings.

I used to think that World History was the most depressing class I ever took – one tale after another of humans exploiting humans. Now I am taking a class called Ocean Environmental Challenges and it is even more depressing. And yet I am still optimistic. To explain why, my top ten reasons for hope, and more, for the future:

  • The End of Fossil Fuels. Whether you believe we will run out of oil or that alternative energy solutions will be embraced, the use of fossil fuels is coming to an end, probably within this century.
  • Compostable Plastic. Unlike today’s petroleum-based plastics that never completely break down, future plastics will be made with materials that are made from natural, bio-degradable materials.
  • Plastic-eating Bacteria. Scientists have developed bacteria that can consume petroleum-based plastic, breaking it down into harmless materials. This will take time, but will eventually eliminate the plastic we have already created.
  • Carbon Dioxide Capture. Systems that absorb carbon dioxide from smoke stacks and along roadsides are being developed that will prevent some carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere as well as take carbon dioxide out of the air.
  • Concrete made from Carbon Dioxide. This is being done now and it is great because it not only stores the carbon dioxide it also provides a market for its capture.
  • Solar Windows. Engineers are creating windows that are also solar collectors. And it’s not just windows, it’s solar paints, shingles, and more. Scientists are discovering how to merge solar power collection capability into virtually any material.
  • Medical Science. There are so many breakthroughs in medical science, technology, and engineering that it is mind-boggling to think what the future will bring. With new technologies, much of it available at very low cost, people will be able to live much longer, healthier lives.
  • The Ocean Cleanup Project. Founded by a teenager, Boyan Slat, Ocean Cleanup has created a system that can potentially remove vast quantities of plastic from the ocean.
  • Vertical Farming. Scientists have discovered techniques, such as aquaponics, that will allow food to be grown using much less land, less fertilizer, and fewer natural resources, such as water. Vertical farms allow food to be grown close to where it will be consumed, eliminating the huge resources and costs incurred transporting food.
  • Young People. To previous generations, the world was a vast place divided into many regions that had little influence on each other. Not so for today’s young people. They see the world as one contiguous entity, where everything – countries, people, oceans, and butterflies – is connected.

This gives them a great perspective and a full sense of the need to protect and restore our world. They understand that the solutions to our world’s challenges lie within each of them individually.

They look around, see those challenges, and say, “I can fix that.”